The Secret Language of Emojis on Instagram

The increase in emoji use has resulted in unexpected uses and given rise to a dynamic visual language on Instagram.

As social networks become more visual in nature, it’s better to convey your message with images rather than text. Nowhere is this more apparent than Instagram, which is almost entirely image based. Hashtags also play a big role on Instagram, but now people are able to include emojis in their hashtags, which has given rise to a dynamic visual language on the site.

Emoji use has skyrocketed on Instagram since the introduction of the iOS emoji keyboard in 2011. Just one month after the new keyboard was introduced, 10 percent of text on Instagram contained emojis, and when an Android emoji keyboard was introduced in 2013 the upward trend really kicked off.

40 percent of text now contains emojis, according to the Instagram engineering blog. Some countries show even higher emoji use, with 60 percent of text from Finnish users and 58 percent of French users inserting emojis into their text.

The blog post also notes that users are replacing some words with emojis, because the emoji is enough to represent the intent.

Intuitively, substitutable words have similar meanings. For example, we might say that ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ are similar words because they can both be used in sentences like ‘The pet store sells _ food’.

Indeed, users are also forging their own meanings from the suite of available hashtags. The needle emoji is being used for blood donation pictures, tattoo pictures, and pictures alluding to drug use. Users have also been tagging adult content with eggplant and peach emojis, which has prompted Instagram to block searches for the eggplant emoji because it “consistently is used for content that violates their community guidelines.”

New York Times Bits Blog contributor, Mike Isaac, notes:

Users are finding new ways to use them to communicate. Paring two or more emoji together, for instance, can form rudimentary sentences or sentiments for others to understand.

The Instagram blog post theorizes that the use of emojis will increase. As users embrace the use of emojis in hashtags, it’s entirely possible this novel use of visual language will become more complex. But as with every language there will be limitations, and debate about how the language is developing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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